Redford plays CIA agent Joe Turner, codenamed “Condor”—not a field agent, but one who works at a desk job. He is a “reader,” someone who just reads books (“everything that's published in the world”), feeding it into a computer for anything that might benefit the agency—at one point, Redford incredulously asks, “Who'd invent a job like that?”
The film opens with the massacre of everyone in his field office in the heart of New York City while Turner is out picking up lunch, by a crew of assassins led by the mysterious “Joubert” played to Euro perfection by Max Von Sydow. When the killers realize they missed Condor, the hunt for him begins. Turner soon kidnaps a random civilian woman (Faye Dunaway) and at gunpoint forcers her to hide him in her apartment. At first, of course, she thinks he’s a lunatic, but when one of the assassins tracks him down and attempts to kill him in her home, she realizes there may be some truth to his paranoia and agrees to help him. Condor’s smarts and lack of field training makes him unpredictable, which turns out to be an advantage—he also soon discovers that he can trust no one and that sides and allliances can quickly change, often having nothing to do with ideology. By the end of the film, Condor exposes the plot and can seemingly finally come out of the cold, but the movie nevertheless ends on an uncertain note, causing Turner and moviegoers to question whether our government and its institutions can still be trusted.
Directed by the great Sidney Pollack, Three Days of the Condor, of course, reflects the deep distrust of the government and the establishment that emerged in the 1970s, particularly in the wake of the Vietnam War, the youth movement and Watergate, when much of the general public lost faith in the integrity of both our institutions and of the people in power. While in the years since the public's trust in government has ebbed and flowed over the years, in many ways, of course, we still haven’t fully recovered—indeed, in the current toxic and divisive political environment, we have witnessed a real nadir in public trust in our leaders and the government, with even those in office actively working to undermine people’s respect and trust for agencies like Congress, the FBI and others, often for their own personal and political agendas. (A new adaptation/update of the story, simply called Condor, is apparently forthcoming.)